Science and Public Discourse
This paper explores the relationship between science and public discourse as an issue of interdisciplinarity. It asks three questions: can scientists speak to non-scientists in such a way that non-scientists truly understand what is being said; can there be a genuine transfer of knowledge between the two; and how fungible are the boundaries between science and public discourse? It argues that most people dealing with these questions are informed by an old model of communication - one that sees it in terms of moving messages from sender to receiver, not as social interaction. It questions whether there is, or indeed should be, an eager audience for scientific information. Finally, it suggests that only mandated scientists take up the challenge of communicating science to the public, but it notes that the efforts of mandated scientists in this regard are rarely endorsed by working scientists. By reconceiving communication, and emphasizing audience needs, one can answer the first two questions positively. But problems still remain in the relationship between working and mandated scientists, and these still pose a challenge for interdisciplinary research.